The Art of the Anniversary

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Once upon a time, the folks living under the Holy Roman Empire would commemorate marriage milestones by crowning wives with a silver wreath during the twenty-fifth year of marriage and with a gold one to mark fifty years. Every woman deserves to be treated like a queen after all, right? Especially if they’re the ones doing most of the grunt work in the relationship, as was the norm back then (is it still?). Regardless of why only women were crowned the “queen of love” for putting up with their spouses for so long and not men, these elaborate gestures would be the first noted occurrences of anniversary traditions in recorded history.

Centuries later, when the Victorian era rolled around and many grew concerned about how to keep marriages that weren’t for political or financial gain together (because love was still a radical notion), the anniversary gifting traditions we’re familiar with were established to promote enduring relationships. For example, the first year would be the paper anniversary, which was supposed to symbolize the marriage being like a blank page - modest and full of potential. Then, the anniversaries that follow include the cotton anniversary, leather anniversary, and so on - all encoded with their own special significance, and the gifts becoming more valuable as time went on. Romantic right?

Then, when these traditions got to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century, the modern anniversary went commercial (as America does with everything). Jewelers and department stores searched for ways to make money on love; the gifts became less symbolic and started looking more like an Amazon wish list with occasions like the appliance anniversary. The failsafe of jewelry for your significant other was established. According to Macy’s fine jewelry sales associate Aaron Ramjon, 19, the reason that precious pieces like rings, bracelets, and earrings are such an appealing option is because of their endurance - diamonds are forever after all. What’s surprising (and contradicts lots of anti-millennial articles), however, is that he typically finds younger people in their thirties and even twenties making these big purchases. Could it be that couples in the honeymoon phase tend to indulge in the gift-giving earlier on when expectations are still high?

Not always. Gladys Granda-Rodriguez, 57, says that she and her husband Pedro Rodriguez, a psychologist and psychiatrist respectively, still give each other gifts and go out to a nice dinner on their anniversary day, even after 23 years of marriage. He’ll usually give her jewelry. “Wearing [his gift] that evening that we went out to dinner on our anniversary […] that’s the memory that’s attached to it,” she says. They also celebrate their anniversary with trips, which they are able to do for one interesting reason. “We got married on Labor Day weekend,” says Granda-Rodriguez, “We still take the [long] weekend and go away somewhere – it doesn’t have to be far.” When they’re away, they set aside any outside distractions and communication in order to spend quality time together. “It gives us that chance to dedicate time to one another,” she says.

However, other couples don’t always have a ritual when it comes to their anniversary. Elsa and Nicolás Weisz, both 72 and from Buenos Aires, Argentina, have been married for 47 years (together for 52 years). While they do celebrate their anniversary, although not always on the day itself, Elsa says, “The most important thing is to try and maintain a family.” While no particular wedding anniversaries spring to mind for them, they cherish the memories of their kids growing up and getting married themselves, as well as the births of their fifteen grandchildren. “It’s not the [anniversary] day itself that has value, it’s the day-to-day,” says Elsa. Nicolás says, “If the rest of the days are bad, and you have one good day in the year, [the marriage] doesn’t work.”

In a time that seems like love is not as easy to find (and keep) as it once was, it’s a relief to see that enduring relationships still exist, even if they do take work as both the Rodriguez’s and Weisz’s mention. And while for younger people marriage and anniversaries seem like a very distant notion, knowing that there’s no one right way to celebrate a relationship can be a relief, so long as there’s a relationship to celebrate. “We think it’s important that we have been together and we celebrate our time together,” says Granda-Rodriguez. “It’s a tradition that we don’t want to lose.”

Photography by:  Nick Chambers